Cambridge Platonism at the AAR 2017

Papers read at this year’s American Academy of Religion annual meeting in Boston:

Karen Felter (University of Muenster), “’The Middle Way of Truth’: The Role of Christ in Anne Conway’s Trinitarianism,” presented to the “Origen and the Roots of ‘Human Freedom’ and ‘Human Dignity’ in the West Seminar,” 20 November 2017.

The group of seventeenth century thinkers, known as the Cambridge Platonists, is theologically renowned for its ties to Origen. However, a comprehensive study of Anne Conway’s theology has never been conducted. This paper contributes to rectifying this by examining Conway’s conception of the Trinity. While Conway deploys the doctrine of the Trinity in the context of neo-platonic systematics, two basic features of her teachings are distinctly Origenian: Firstly, Conway’s process soteriology is based on Origen’s idea of apokatastasis. Conway views Christ as the necessary mediator between God and creation as every being works towards restoration. Christ participates in every being separately in what Conway refers to as “intimate presence”. The idea that Christ accommodates individually in the salvific process is distinctly Origenian. Secondly, Conway’s Trinity is characterized by the polarity of “motion” and “rest”, as is Origen’s. I argue that this is foundational for her critique of Cartesian Dualism.

Derek Michaud (University of Maine), “Reimagining Revelation, Tradition, and the Development of Doctrine,” presented to “Traditions of Interpretation” session, Christian Systematic Theology Unit, 19 November 2017.

This paper argues that rather than more or less distinct loci in systematic Christian theology, revelation and tradition should be conceived of as aspects of a single communicative act initiated by God and received by humanity and played out through time. Borrowing an image from the forward pass in American Football, and building on the arguments of the Cambridge Platonist John Smith (1618-1652), I argue for and understanding of tradition (etymology notwithstanding) not as something to “hand on” but as the history of the reception of God’s self-disclosure. The “development of doctrine” therefore is the process of receiving what God is (and has always been) sending us in a changing world. Tradition is reimagined as a source of doctrinal authority but not as a collection of content so much as a liturgical, prayerful, exegetical, and theological guide for living the Christian life here and now.

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Eighteenth-Century Dissent and Cambridge Platonism by Louise Hickman (Routledge, 2017)

Louise Hickman, Eighteenth Century Dissent and Cambridge Platonism: Reconceiving the Philosophy of Religion, Routledge, 2017, 211pp., $140.00 (hbk), ISBN 9781138652415.

Eighteenth-Century Dissent and Cambridge Platonism identifies an ethically and politically engaged philosophy of religion in eighteenth century Rational Dissent, particularly in the work of Richard Price (1723-1791), and in the radical thought of Mary Wollstonecraft. It traces their ethico-political account of reason, natural theology and human freedom back to seventeenth century Cambridge Platonism and thereby shows how popular histories of the philosophy of religion in modernity have been over-determined both by analytic philosophy of religion and by its critics. The eighteenth century has typically been portrayed as an age of reason, defined as a project of rationalism, liberalism and increasing secularisation, leading inevitably to nihilism and the collapse of modernity. Within this narrative, the Rational Dissenters have been accused of being the culmination of eighteenth-century rationalism in Britain, epitomising the philosophy of modernity. This book challenges this reading of history by highlighting the importance of teleology, deiformity, the immutability of goodness and the divinity of reason within the tradition of Rational Dissent, and it demonstrates that the philosophy and ethics of both Price and Wollstonecraft are profoundly theological. Price’s philosophy of political liberty, and Wollstonecraft’s feminism, both grounded in a Platonic conception of freedom, are perfectionist and radical rather than liberal. This has important implications for understanding the political nature of eighteenth-century philosophical theology: these thinkers represent not so much a shaking off of religion by secular rationality but a challenge to religious and political hegemony. By distinguishing Price and Wollstonecraft from other forms of rationalism including deism and Socinianism, this book takes issue with the popular division of eighteenth-century philosophy into rationalistic and empirical strands and, through considering the legacy of Cambridge Platonism, draws attention to an alternative philosophy of religion that lies between both empiricism and discursive inference.

 

Reviewed by Sandrine Bergès (Bilkent University) here.

‘Origenian Platonisme’ in Interregnum Cambridge: Three Academic Texts by George Rust, 1656 and 1658

“‘Origenian Platonisme’ in Interregnum Cambridge: Three Academic Texts by George Rust, 1656 and 1658”, edited by Marilyn A. Lewis, Davide A. Secci, and Christian Hengstermann, with assistance from John H. Lewis, and Benjamin Williams, History of Universities, vol. XXX / 1-2, pp. 43-124, published 3 August 2017.

Abstract:

Building on Professor Sarah Hutton’s designation of the years 1658-1662 as an ‘Origenist moment in English theology’, this article adds substantial detail to our knowledge of what Marilyn Lewis describes as an ‘Origenian Platonist’ moment. The article presents English translations of three Latin academic texts, written by George Rust in 1656 and 1658 while he was a fellow of Christ’s College, Cambridge. The first text, Messias in S. Scriptura promissus olim venit should be assigned to Rust’s fulfilment in 1656 of the requirement to dispute in the Divinity Schools in the University of Cambridge in order to qualify for the degree of Bachelor of Divinity. The second and third texts were presented at the annual University of Cambridge Commencement Day in 1658, when Rust incepted BD. His Act verses, Resurrectionem e mortuis Scriptura docet nec refragatur Ratio and Anima separata non dormit appeared on a souvenir broadsheet for the day, and the final text, Resurrectionem è Mortuis S. Scriptura tradit, nec refragatur Ratio was the discourse which Rust defended in the disputation. Not only are these two 1658 texts important additions to the writings constituting the ‘Origenian Platonist moment’, but a reconstruction of the Commencement on 5 and 6 July will show that they formed part of what was perhaps the most public exposition and celebration of Origenian Platonist doctrines in Interregnum Cambridge.

Link: History of Universities, XXX (2017)

The Cambridge Platonist Research Group

Marilyn Lewis has drawn our attention to the following publication, which will be of interest to all readers of Cambridge Platonist texts:

” ‘Origenian Platonisme’ in Interregnum Cambridge: Three Academic Texts by George Rust, 1656 and 1658″, edited by Marilyn A. Lewis, Davide A. Secci, and Christian Hengstermann, with assistance from John H. Lewis, and Benjamin Williams, History of Universities, vol. XXX / 1-2, pp. 43-124, published 3 August 2017.

Abstract: “Building on Professor Sarah Hutton’s designation of the years 1658-1662 as an ‘Origenist moment in English theology’, this article adds substantial detail to our knowledge of what Marilyn Lewis describes as an ‘Origenian Platonist’ moment. The article presents English translations of three Latin academic texts, written by George Rust in 1656 and 1658 while he was a fellow of Christ’s College, Cambridge. The first text, Messias in S. Scriptura promissus olim venit should be assigned to Rust’s fulfilment in…

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